Proof that serious Midwest post-punk exists outside of the usual locales, this trio from Iowa City, Iowa (hometown of the wonderful Dangtrippers) builds a vintage Bob Mould wall-of-rhythm-guitar sound and tops it off with winsome Shoesy vocals on The Cry of a Falling Nation, a neat declaration of style. Since he hasn’t got the pipes to compete straight-on with his own surging guitar power, Boston native Eric Melcher solves the problem (on record, at least) by relaxing and floating above the pop-rooted din. Unfortunately, that makes his clumsy/serious lyrics all too audible.
Despite a general reduction in the sugar content, 4 a.m. offers pretty much the same thick guitar rock as the first LP. Amid the familiar roar, unwarranted stylistic digressions (like the jazzy piano backing of “The Firing Line”) suggest ambitions that may be beyond the band’s ken. And what is the inexplicable “Paula’s First Piano Recital” — a live instrumental that could be exactly as billed — doing on the album?
With a new face behind the skins and a reaffirmation of the first album’s rich, tuneful rock approach, Melcher delivers his best-sounding songs yet on Multinational Pop Conglomerate. But one nagging problem remains. To quote from the marvelously catchy “A Little Hope”: “As the world runs the course of entropy/We tend to think that it will all come down next week.” Help!